Next to the Al Azhar mosque is the sprawling Al Ghouri Wikala or at least what I suspect is a part of the Al Ghouri complex. There is an open archway through which a bustling passage stretches as far as the eye can see. If you take this pathway and keep walking, you come at the other end at Bab Zuwayla, which is the Southern gate of the old walled city of Al Qahira.
Bab Zuwayla is one of the three gates that remain of the original 60 that guarded the walls of Al Qahira. Built in 1092, the wall has survived the years being beefed up at different points in time. In fact you can “read the wall” or see the different reinforcements effected in the form of different colours / textures of stones.
The word “Bab” means gates and “Zuwalya” refers to the soldiers of the Berber tribe Zuwayla who was part of the Fatimid army and whose barracks were near this gate. Local folklore has it that the gate was considered unlucky, probably on account of the fact that in the earlier times executions were carried out here and the heads hung out on spikes on the top of the gate! Ugh!
However, the gate subsequently gained popularity as Bab al Mitwalli after a saint who lived near the gate and was rumoured to perform miracles!
As you enter the gate, you find yourself standing on steps which are atop the walls of the old walled city. One step you are within the limits of the old Fatimid city of Al Qahira, and, the next moment you are not!
A set of 76 steps carry you to the roof of the gate which is adorned by two circular towers. This is the loggia that at one time used to house the Royal Orchestra which would announce the arrival of the Royal Fatimid processions. During the Mamluk reign, drummers at the loggia would herald the arrival of the Amir into the city! I suspect this is also where the executions were carried out – a rather creepy feeling!
On both sides of the gate are beautifully carved minarets. Each minaret has a narrow staircase that leads up to the top, to a panoramic view of Cairo, though I must admit, the immediate view is not exactly eye candy! For a moment I had second thoughts about going up, seeing it gets a little dark and rather narrow but decided to brave it!
Despite the fact that you are in a crowded part of old Cairo, its incredibly peaceful, and, at this time of the year, very pleasant!